So let’s face it: 2017 was not just a lean year (irrespective of the bonanza that Tiger Zinda Hai is likely to bring in) commercially but also poor on the histrionic front. Forget the hype, how many actual performances have remained in memory from our lead artistes?
Happily, the character artistes got to do far better. Frankly, supporting artistes is often a more correct term because they actually support and give a film internal strength. Villain, comedian or sympathetic character artiste, mother, friend, servant or boss—Hindi cinema is replete with stalwarts in every department who often make a film by highlighting the protagonists’ importance.
And funnily enough, every such actor need not have a lengthy role either. Remember Om Puri as the dying don in Awara Pagal Deewana?
Here are 15 character artistes who dazzled in this year’s pack of films.
Sathyaraj / Bahubali 2—The Conclusion:
Katappa was the moving force behind the story and the secret weapon that brought the audiences in hordes for the sequel to Bahubali—The Beginning. Yes, everyone wanted to know why he killed Bahubali!
However in all this hype, we overlooked the fabulous underplaying by one of the most respected talents down South, Sathyaraj, as this oh-so-loyal servant. He carried many a scene even with the hero and his confrontation scene with Sivagami, when he reveals she has been misguided by her evil son, was magnificent.
Ramya Krishnan / Bahubali 2—The Conclusion:
The Bahubali franchise would have lost a major part of its sheen without the towering performance of the one-time hottie of Hindi films like Dayavan, Khal-Nayak and Parampara: Ramya Krishnan only needed the camera focused on her eyes to tower over everyone in the cast. As the all-powerful Sivagami, she was at her regal best throughout, note the scene when she came to know that Bahubali is no more.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui / Raees:
Strangely for such a redoubtable actor who has been uniformly good in films as assorted as Manjhi—The Mountain Man and Badlapur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui seems to be at his best when pitted against the three Khans! After Aamir Khan (Talaash) and Salman Khan (Bajrangi Bhaijaan), he was absolutely lovable again as the determined SP in Raaes opposite the third Khan—Shah Rukh! His throwaway casual demeanour stole many a scene from under his co-actors’ noses.
Pankaj Tripathi / Bareilly Ki Barfi, Newton, Fukrey Returns:
To Pankaj Tripathi goes the honour of being the most consistent performer of this year among supporting artistes. His three roles were varied, but his approach to acting in every film was the same. Yet, his nuances were so superfine and razor-sharp that we never tired of him, for he seemed effortlessly different in each role!
This is the hallmark of a truly great artiste, given only to select titans of the industry like Pran, Prem Chopra, Amjad Khan, Danny Denzongpa and Amrish Puri, and a similarly restricted cult of lead artistes. As the pragmatic father of Bareilly…, the whimsical yet determined soldier of Newton and the sporting Panditji in Fukrey Returns, Pankaj showed his métier again and again. Even in the unnoticed trio of Anarkali Of Aarah, Munna Michael and Julie 2, he lit up these washouts while he was on screen.
Seema Bhargava Pahwa / Bareilly Ki Barfi:
Note the scene in the song ‘Sweety Tera Drama’ when she begins to dance or her expressions when she clearly expresses approval or disapproval of her daughter’s suitors. Her interactions with a rebellious daughter and husband and her frankness in inconvenient places—Seema Bhargava Pahwa was a revelation as a contemporary small-town mom. She was also good in a lesser role, again as the heroine’s mother, in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan.
Neha Dhupia / Tumhari Sulu:
She was pitch-perfect as the rather la-di-dah chief of a radio channel. You can spot her likes every time you enter a ‘today’ radio’ channel. The role wasn’t long, but Neha Dhupia demonstrated the miles she has covered in her 14 year career.
Raj Arjun / Secret Superstar:
Raj Arjun outclassed everyone in the film, coming across as a swine beyond compare. His sheer audacity, his acrimony with wife and daughter and arrogance take your breath away, and he makes you feel, 10 minutes into the film, that he should be hammered to pulp! When he gets what is due (sadly not physically!) in the climax, you know he must have contributed at least 30 percent of the revenue the film has made!
Lalit Behl / Mukti Bhawan:
The endearingly cute old man who could unwittingly be a nuisance to his son and everyone else was unforgettable in this offbeat drama that petered off (like most offbeat dramas nowadays) to a pointless climax. The veteran was so straight out of his life that Lalit Behl lingered in memory long after we forgot the film.
Navnindra Behl / Mukti Bhawan:
Lalit Behl’s real-life wife Navnindra played a 75 year-old woman who befriends the old man in his last days. A spunky and positive woman, she was another brilliant essay in a role that had little footage but made a lasting impact.
Svar Kamble / Chef:
Child stars are usually pretty real nowadays, but Svar Kamble, as a beleaguered son of a divorced couple, was so real you felt you could touch him in Chef. Yes, the film never got what it deserved, but Svar was a sheer delight.
Dinesh Prabhakar / Chef:
He was as gimmicky as could be. But Dinesh Prabhakar’s body language and expression converted a possibly over-the-top act of a driver into an endearing essay of a South Indian maverick.
Ram Gopal Bajaj / Chef:
Again, a short role, but Ram Gopal Bajaj was superb as the hero’s snobbish yet vulnerably lonely father in this underrated family drama. He was there when the film began, reappeared before the end, and made his mark in the few minutes he had on screen.
Saswata Chatterjee / Jagga Jasoos:
This formidable talent from Bengal had a quirky and complex character in Jagga Jasoos. Saswata Chaterjee is the one who initiates Jagga into music, nurtures him and later pines for his adopted son even though he must live away from him. His protective attitude to the grown-up orphan and his helplessness later were also finely etched by this actor.
Saurabh Shukla / Jolly LLB 2:
He had won the National award for his role of the same judge in the first part of this franchise. Saurabh Shukla maintained the tenor, and in fact, took it beyond. He was especially tremendous in his confrontational scenes with his co-star Annu Kapoor, which demonstrated the essential difference between true film acting versus the unapologetic hamming of the latter.
Sayani Gupta / Jolly LLB 2:
In her brief appearance as the victim of Jolly’s selfish machinations that fuels the plot, the almost pint-sized Sayani Gupta outshone her own longer turn in Margarita With A Straw by leagues. She was brilliant as the hapless woman who approaches Jolly and phenomenal as the broken woman who has lost all, and has no desire to fight anymore.